“Lesser” or “Never,” but Together: Evangelicals and the American Presidency


Dr. Daniel Akin, President of SEBTS

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a unique and difficult situation when it comes to this year’s presidential election. Many of us see no qualified candidate for whom to vote. At present, that is my personal conviction and position, something I have been clear about on multiple occasions and through various channels. I cannot, as I currently see things, vote for either of the major party candidates. My conscience will simply not allow it, even as I consider the voting process to be a wonderful blessing and privilege we all have in America.

There are also faithful followers of Christ, many who are close and dear friends of mine, who feel they can (and even must) vote for a “lesser of two evils” candidate. This is because so much is at stake, particularly Supreme Court appointments. I can understand and appreciate and respect their position. This is a very difficult moment for all of us, and we should be both fair and honest about this reality.

The 2016 election is important, but it is too often divisive and open to unhealthy rhetoric. At Southeastern, we want to pursue the loving and civil discourse for which our school has come to be known. We know that brothers and sisters in Christ can hold and express differing positions even as they love and respect one another.

As a picture of this, I have asked two of our ethics professors, Drs. Dan Heimbach and Mark Liederbach, to share their personal positions and approaches to this timely and increasingly crucial question. They are brothers, friends, and colleagues, and they regularly show grace and respect for each other even when they have different perspectives.

Why Evangelicals Should Not Sit Out the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Daniel Heimbach, Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS

The 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign season has just entered the general election period, and American evangelicals now face the repellent prospect of voting for one of the major party candidates—both of whom we think is terribly flawed and dangerous—or sitting out this election either by not voting or symbolically voting for a write-in we know has no chance. I am writing to explain why I think we must vote for one of the repellent major party candidates, and why I believe sitting it out is not what God desires. All Christians want to be Christ-like and faithful to the Word of God. But we differ sometimes on what that is. I will explain why being like Christ and following his teaching leads me to think we must not sit out this election. But I respect those who love the Word of God and reach other conclusions. The important thing is desiring to honor God and willingness to be corrected by what he says.

 God does not call Christians only to vote for political candidates who reach minimal levels of acceptability. Rather he calls us to be a good influence within real world limits (Jer 29:7), which in our case means voting for a comparatively “better” candidate over a comparatively “worse” one from among those our governing system makes available. Candidates are never sinless and some are positively wicked. But that does not make those voting for an available candidate complicit in his or her flaws.

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Jesus paid taxes supporting the highly immoral Roman government occupying 1st century Judea (Matt 22:15-22). That did not make Jesus complicit in its failings and neither will voting for one of the available candidates in this election, even though both are flawed and dangerous.

I think sitting out this election is a version of the mistake Jesus warned not to make in the parable he told about a field of wheat mixed with tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). In that parable Jesus addressed how Christians should live in present society, and he warned against taking an all-or-nothing approach toward bettering life in common with unbelievers. The field represents mixed society under present world limitations (Matt 13:38). And, while God plans a perfect world to come (Matt 13:41), he does not make Christians responsible for reaching that perfection. Rather, for now, he only wants us to be a good influence while accepting present world limitations that are far from ideal. We are wheat, not tares. But we must accept living in mixed society with them and not weed them out (Matt 13:29-30).

We can strive for better candidates in the future. But in the 2016 Presidential race, that process is over. Our major party candidates are selected, and now all we can do is promote or undermine which is elected. Whether we vote in this election or sit it out, we must realize that whatever we do will affect the outcome. There is no option with no impact at all. Now the only way we have of influencing this election for the better is to assess which candidate is less flawed or dangerous, and then to vote for that candidate. I believe that is what Jesus expects. I believe that is what he would do in our place. And I believe that is the truest and best way to please God in this election.

Why Evangelicals Should Exercise Conscientious Objection in the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Mark Liederbach, Dean of Students and Professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at SEBTS

When it appears neither of the two candidates running for president provides a positive option, questions abound about the proper way for Christian to think about voting.


Dr. Mark Liederbach

There are some who would make the case that it is better to vote for the “lesser of two evils” candidate. Otherwise the chance to advance an agenda may be lost, or more negatively stated, the opportunity to slow a decline would be wasted.  Such a position is not the same as mere pragmatism, though it is possible to construe it as such. Giving the benefit of the doubt to right-minded Christians taking this position, we should understand that there is a genuine desire to honor the Lord by using the gift of a meaningful vote to promote good or limit evil.

On the other hand, there are those that would make the case (including myself) that there comes a time when a person’s conscience will simply not allow a vote to be cast for either candidate. This position is sometimes critiqued as a form of misguided “perfectionism” in which the voter refusing to choose one of the two leading candidates is afraid of being complicit with evil. Critics will then point out that in a fallen world everything is tainted by evil, thus a demand for such “perfectionism” is not simply unrealistic of any candidate shy of Jesus himself. When taken to its logical extreme, such an argument would make life unlivable.

I beg to differ.

While it can be argued that the “lesser of two evils” choice is sometimes necessary, such a decision assumes that only option A or B has value.  It also assumes that a clear “lesser of evils” can be determined.

But there is a third option, and it would be wrong to describe it as “throwing away a vote.” That third option is called “conscience.”

A choice to follow conscience arises when the two presented options both have such evil positions, platforms and legacies that a voter cannot in good conscience support either one. In that situation the voter can still choose to go to the polls and vote for other offices (Senate, Governor, etc) with a clearer choice, while abstaining from voting for the particular office that offers up wretched candidates (in this case President).  Such a decision can be good and wise because it honors the right and privilege we are granted to participate in our governing process while also having the backbone to say: “The time has come when I cannot face my Lord with a pure heart by voting for either of these candidates.”

In this particular election, one candidate is in the midst of likely corruption and supports an agenda that includes abortion, gender confusion, legalized euthanasia and legalized marijuana. The other has built a life on the back of gambling, pornography, bigotry, divorce, abortion and amassing a fortune by preying on the poor.

These two evils don’t seem to have a clear “lesser.”

One can support a party platform (if the voter thinks one has long-term benefits) by voting for other offices while simultaneously abstaining from voting for one of the two most wretched candidates in history.  There are times when conscientious objection grounded in an ethic of worship is the more responsible choice.  I believe this election cycle is one of those times.

A position that argues “Never Hillary & Never Trump” may not be popular, but it may well be the highest act of worship a Christian can offer.


I am so grateful for these two men and the gift they are to our students. My hope and prayer is that this is a model for all those who live together under the Lordship of King Jesus. We can lovingly and graciously express our views, even when we disagree, and then join hands as we continue about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission until King Jesus returns! In all of this we must remember and never forget: our hope is not and has never been in a president. It is in a King.

What Percentage of Americans Are Evangelical?

During this election cycle a great deal of attention has been given to the evangelical vote. And for good reason: evangelicals are believed to make up 20% of the voting electorate. However, counting the number of evangelicals has always been a challenging task.evangometer Some evangelicals attend mainline denominational churches, and not everyone attending evangelical churches hold to what are typically considered evangelical distinctives. And to make things even more complicated, some who hold to evangelical beliefs do not self-identify as evangelicals. Leith Anderson and Ed Stetzer, working with a group of evangelical leaders, came up with four belief statements that appear to identify evangelicals when used in a questionnaire. They report their findings in the latest issue of Christianity Today (April, 2016) in “A New Way to Define Evangelicals” (pp. 52-55; the online version can be found here).

The four belief statements are:

“The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.”

“It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.”

“Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.”

“Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal life.”

Their findings? Anderson and Stetzer conclude that “29 percent of whites, 44 percent of African Americans, 30 percent of Hispanics, and 17 percent from other ethnicities have evangelical beliefs.” This means that, overall, about 30 percent of Americans hold to evangelical beliefs.

Cross posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

Plato’s Republic, American Democracy, and Donald Trump

By: Dr. Ivan Spencer

From ancient times to the present, anarchy turns people to stern leaders who will restore order, peace, and prosperity. Democracies naturally create instabilities that invite tyranny.

Whatever your opinion of Trump’s rise to popularity, this phenomenon commands attention and provokes a response. How could someone with his traits and history persuade teeming masses of Americans? Plato explained this 2,400 years ago in his magnum opus, The Republic. Plato explored the three basic forms of rule and their aberrations. The central issue in the work concerns what a just person will be like by finding out what a just state is like. If a just state embraces a republic, ruled by a wise council, so a just person embraces reasoning and intellect over his base drives and emotions. Unfortunately, the rarity of just people and just states reminds us of our desperation, our longing for justice.

Viewed through the lens of Plato’s timeless political analysis, this moment in American politics fits into a recurring pattern of political regression that he predicts. How so? He recognizes three basic forms of human organization. Rule by one is usually tyranny. Rule by a few is aristocracy, or if corrupt, oligarchy. Rule by all is democracy, or if corrupt, anarchy. These forms often intermingle and cause corruption. A republic, the highest form of government, rules with wisdom through an aristocracy of highly trained, disciplined, and vetted leaders. Plato explains the regression that occurs when a republic descends through inferior forms: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, anarchy, and finally, tyranny. While this analysis isn’t precisely true in every scenario, the general pattern rings true. I’ll skip timocracy (rule by military honor) because it isn’t relevant. Plato understood that some steps might be skipped on the way down to tyranny.

And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?[1]

When virtuous leaders of a republic begin to seek wealth, an oligarchy (or plutocracy) emerges. As concentrated wealth becomes the central power in a society, the wealthy overpower not only the poorer classes, but also each other. When an oligarchy obtains most of the money, the best place to get more money is from overthrowing another oligarch. The oligarchs shrink in number, and the poor get poorer. Eventually, there are so many poor people that they decide to band together to overthrow the super-rich oligarchs. In case you are wondering, this isn’t Marxism. Plato observed and explained class struggle 2,200 years before Marx. Make of that what you will. Many of Marx’s ideas are not original.

When the poor overthrow the rich, they determine to make everyone equal. They establish a new kind of government: democracy. Let all be equal. Let each person rule. Democracy emerged in ancient Greece, though not on a scale, depth, or level of sophistication close to America. Democratic peoples promote two things: freedom and equality. The quest for these values can excite the population to extreme levels of freedom leading to instability. When a society teeters on the edge anarchy, drunk with excessive freedom, anarchy comes in shades. It isn’t just mayhem gone viral, but begins when angry people think and feel that there isn’t any rationale to the system and all is a sham. Signs of chaos arise in various quarters: behavior, crime, economics, etc. Thus the rational order of society begins to unravel, whether locally, nationally, or globally. When fear takes over, people huddle because there’s too much risk. Want and need set in. People clamor for a return to order. Finally, in desperation the people welcome a harsh and overpowering leader who determines to forcefully restore order. People applaud this leader who seems heroic, tenacious, and courageous to set things right. Order creates security, and security can bring prosperity as people openly risk their self, money, and time by investing in their society. At first, the leader enforces order, but eventually turns tyrannical toward all the people. Accustomed to dealing with people brutishly, the leader expands those brutal powers in like fashion upon all. Tyranny emerges. Tyranny? It comes in a hundred flavors, and the pages of history running back five thousand years give countless examples. The French Revolution endures as one of the most infamous.

Consider the perceptions of the upset masses at this moment. Many feel that we are either in semi-anarchical state or teetering on the edge of anarchy just a slip away. Take your pick. Will that slip occur due to ISIS, or uncontrolled illegal immigration, or racial rioting, or economic turmoil caused by countless factors including $10T in new debt in the past seven years, or the Mid East, or rampant identity theft, or cyber attacks, or a hopelessly flawed tax system, or a rusting infrastructure, or a train-wrecked healthcare system, or a dwindling military, or burdensome bureaucratic regulations, or a bankrupt entitlement system of lies, or a refugee crises of epic proportions, or rogue nuclear states, or an incredibly expensive and failed education system? All of these and more keep Americans awake and they fear impending doom. No alarm intended. Maybe we face no open anarchy yet, but many feel it looms. In our fast-paced world, tragedy can come quickly, and we remind ourselves of this yearly on September 11.

Commonplace voices daily echo that anger drives people to Trump. One might say the same for Sanders. Is Trump the tyrant many dread? Perhaps it is someone else? That’s your call. Choose, but know and understand why the underclasses now support leaders with the tenacity and will to extinguish many impending disasters. Not choosing risks the worst. If the conditions driving us toward anarchy worsen, another leader will arise who is more aggressive. Leaders gain mass support with a ferocious image. Voices of moderation be cursed. Whatever you believe, know that from ancient times to the present, democratic societies experience times of great volatility that can lapse into tyranny. Times may change, but collective human nature remains unchanged.

[1] Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition., vol. 3 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1892), 272 (Book VIII).

Dr. Ivan Spencer is Professor of History and Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and The College at Southeastern